Birdwatching 2.0: citizen science with a smartphone app

15 May 2014

Why does a bird land in the middle of a residential neighbourhood instead of a beautiful forest? And why do some birds return to the same place over and over again? Everyone can contribute to the scientific study to help explain this extraneous bird behaviour using the new smartphone app ‘Vogel het uit!’. The app was developed by a research team from the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

 ‘Vogel het uit!’ is a citizen science project in which scientist want to involve the public to help answer unresolved questions related to the daily life of birds. The scientists know where birds are, but they do not know what draws them to these places. Therefore they ask participants to visit places of interest to birds (and the scientist) and report their findings via the app.

Users of the app will be asked a variety of questions on essential places identified by the researchers. These locations are spread across the Netherlands and are found both in urban areas, as well as nature parks. Examples of questions are the number of birds in a given area, the types of plants or the direction of the wind. With the help of the public the researchers hope to figure out more about the peculiar flight paths of certain birds on those locations. All observations submitted via the app will be automatically processed in order to obtain a reliable picture of what draws these birds to a given spot.

'We want to share our fascination for birds with others and involve the public in this manner in our research,’ explains team captain Dr Judy Shamoun-Baranes. During the past half year she developed the ‘Vogel het uit!’ app together with Prof. Willem Bouten and a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) of the UvA, SURFsara, Netherlands eScience Center, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and the working group ‘Grauwe Kiekendief’.

VHu Groepsfoto

Team 'Vogel het uit!' (image: Martijn Mulder), screenshots from the app and photos of the app's festive launch in science centre NEMO on 14 May (images: Hanne Nijhuis).

Flight paths and GPS backpacks

The smartphone app makes use of the flight paths which were recorded with the use of GPS backpacks. These small devices are attached on the back of birds and allow researchers to monitor the position of a bird at any given time. From one bird of the nesting colony on the isle Texel it is known that it follows a fixed routine that takes it to a square in Amsterdam Nieuw-West. However, the flight path cannot tell what draws this bird to the same spot over and over again. With the aid of the public the researcher now hope to find out.

2013 Academic Year Prize

The Academic Year Prize is a Dutch prize awarded annually to the most original and innovative communication plan for making a scientific research project more accessible to a broader public. The Prize was initiated in 2005 by, among others, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the leading NRC Handelsblad newspaper.

Download the app

The app ‘Vogel het uit!’ is available for free download in the App Store and on Google Play. (Note that it is only available in the Dutch language.)

Fast deciders who want to know more about the app and the bird species wearing the GPS backpacks can join special excursions during the National bird week. You can sign up via www.vogelweek.nl